Bruce Cassidy believes there’s an ‘obvious’ choice for second line center
The Bruins have a handful of options when it comes to ‘replacing’ David Krejci on Boston’s second line.
But the competition has one clear cut favorite in the eyes of Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy.
“I think the obvious choice is Charlie Coyle,” Cassidy said in his first media availability since the B’s flurry of transactions. “He’s the most familiar with our guys [and] I’m the most familiar with him. [It] would allow the other guys to fall into place.”
Those other guys mentioned by Cassidy included free agent additions Erik Haula and Tomas Nosek, both of whom have acknowledged that they’re most comfortable playing center, along with Nick Foligno, who can and will play anywhere you ask him. There’s also prospect Jack Studnicka, a natural center who spent the majority of his brief 2021 NHL run on the wing.
All are contenders and are being given consideration, sure, but it’s Coyle who seems like the player the Black and Gold have penciled (or even penned) in as the team’s No. 2 center behind Patrice Bergeron for the start of training camp.
“So, Charlie and Taylor Hall, and [Craig] Smith was on that line last year,” Cassidy said, essentially confirming Coyle will be the only tweak to the team’s second line out of the gate. “If Coyle can bring some of what Krejci did, that’ll be a real good line.”
The 6-foot-3 Coyle is coming off his worst season to date with the Bruins, with just six goals and 16 points in 51 games, headlined by a career-worst 7.6 shooting percentage. But Coyle also played through knee injuries that required multiple surgeries, and is entering the second year of a six-year, $31.5 million extension signed back in 2019, so perhaps this bump to the second line was also something the Bruins considered to be an inevitability of sorts.
It will be interesting to see how this line gels over time, though, as Coyle is certainly more of a natural shooting threat than Krejci, which could shift Hall into more of a facilitator than a straight-up scorer (he had eight goals in 16 games with the Bruins down the stretch). Krejci was also a much more accomplished apple farmer, with 1.47 assists per 60 minutes of five-on-five play compared to a 0.79 assists per 60 rate for Coyle since the Weymouth native’s B’s debut back on Feb. 23, 2019.
But what the Bruins are asking out of Coyle, who tallied a career-high 38 assists and 56 points in 2016-17, may just be impossible, as the Hall-Krejci-Smith line was just a pure buzzsaw for the Black and Gold upon its assembling.
In just over 180 minutes of five-on-five play together last season, the Hall-Krejci-Smith line outshot the opposition 121-60, and outscored them 13-1. That translated to 4.33 goals for and 40.3 shots for per 60 minutes. For some added context there, the Bruins’ superhuman first line with Bergeron between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak finished 2021 with 4.58 goals for and 43.8 shots for per 60. For the first time in almost a decade, the Bruins had their top two lines humming like No. 1 units.
Asking Coyle to be a seamless fit with that line is no easy request. But it’s one the Bruins, short on tangibly better upgrades both in house and on the free agent market (especially with their cap space situation) are going to make all the same.
“That’s the way we’re leaning,” Cassidy said. “[We’ll] see how the other pieces shake out.”
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.